Friday, April 29, 2011

Chard Gets its Mojo Back

Formerly flat bunches of chard, after reconstituting submerged in water for two hours.
Our big hanks of chard from the CSA boxes tend to stick out of normal-size bags, and they wilt down to a pretty thin and floppy state when kept in the fridge too long.  I had accumulated quite a bit of chard, and wondered if it would be possible to restore the chard to its plump, crispy state.  Much to my surprise, I found that it is!

Because I didn't really expect the outcome to be this amazing, I didn't take a "before" picture. But my chard was flat, folks.  Droopy doesn't begin to describe it.  I trimmed the stem ends, and put it all in my big old yellow Tupperware bowl (you know, the gigantic one).  I filled the bowl to the brim with water.  Two hours later, I noticed that the chard was curling up crisply out of the bowl.  I prepared to spin it dry, but realized, as I lifted the leaves out, that it was already dry.  In the bottom of the bowl, only about 1/4 cup of water remained.  The chard had absorbed all the rest.  It looked as if it had just been picked.

So don't give up on your greens.  I suspect the key thing was to trim the stem ends; the water was probably absorbed into the chard through the stems.

Update:  It works for spinach, too.  Be sure to freshly tear or cut stem ends and make sure the stem ends are submerged.  I do think the leaves take up the water from them.  And I was delighted to discover a new way to use chard from commenter Janet.  Thank you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Creamy Lemon, Garlic and Tarragon Chicken

Mr. Eating the Scenery once posited  that if tuna could be called Chicken of the Sea, it only stood to reason that chicken could be called Tuna of the Land.  Of course, this is the same man who wondered, upon observing this sign outside Yakima, a nearby city, if there was a corresponding sign outside Palm Springs billing it as the Yakima of California.  You can see why I like to keep Mr. ETS well nourished.

My intentions for these two free-range tuna ... er, chickens, started along the thyme and rosemary line.  But sunshine, bobbing robins, miscellaneous birdsong, bright green tarragon springing up outside ... diverse factors converged to make it obvious that something quite different was called for on this bright (albeit chilly) Spring day.  Herewith, the result.
Long ago my mom taught me to cut up a chicken.  Later, my youthful, preppy self learned that you can buy chickens already cut up!  Now that I have reverted to local, free-range chickens, which come to me whole, I find that chicken-cutting-up skills, apparently, never leave you. 

2 lovely, free-range, local chickens  (mine were each about 3 pounds)
Coconut oil or your fat of choice
1 cup chopped tarragon
1 organic lemon, thinly sliced, seeds removed
8 cloves garlic, crushed or roughly chopped
1 cup white wine
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Pan juices from roasted chicken
1/2 cup Pure Eire organic Jersey cream
Fresh tarragon

Cut up chickens into leg/thigh pieces and breast pieces.   I left the breasts whole because I don't have a cleaver.  Put backs, necks, wings (if they're scrawny) into a plastic bag and freeze to make stock later.

Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

In large Dutch oven, heat coconut oil.  Brown leg/thigh pieces on both sides and remove to plate.  Brown breasts on skin sides, then turn upright in pan.  Pour in white wine.  Scatter half the garlic and tarragon over the breasts, and top with half the lemon slices.  Place leg/thigh pieces on and around the breast pieces, and top with remaining garlic, tarragon, and lemon slices.
Cover, and bake for 50 minutes.  Check internal temperature of breasts; when it is 165 degrees, chicken is done.  Lift chicken pieces from the Dutch oven and place them in a shallow casserole.  If you've left the breasts whole, remove the meat from them for easy serving.

Pour chicken juices through a strainer into a suitably sized saucepan.  Heat to a simmer, reduce if desired, stir in cream, heat through and pour over chicken pieces.  Top with fresh tarragon sprigs or chopped tarragon.

Serve with optimally prepared, fresh, local vegetables of your choice.

Makes 8 to 10 hearty servings.  And don't forget to make stock with the backs, wings and bones!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Box Eleven

The last three boxes are all coming in a row ... this is the time of year when growing things really take off, and apparently it's mostly GREEN!  Chard, parsley, Walla Walla sweets, spinach, and delectable asparagus.  Like last year, I'll be sorry to see the boxes end, but am enormously grateful for our local farms and the fact that the farmers' markets are just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cheese Louise

The other day I stopped in at Cheese Louise, a cool little cheese and gift shop on The Parkway in Richland.  I love going in there, because the proprietors (who would rather be called "cheese mongrels" than cheesemongers) truly are dogged in their pursuit of cheese excellence.

Yes, their cheeses come from all over the world, but the shop is local!  And some of best cheeses in existence do, in fact, come from other parts of the world.  Cheese Louise does carry some Northwest-made products, as does Ariel Gourmet right next door.  And let's face it, if I knew of any locally-made cheeses, I'd be all over them.  I depend on my readers to let me know about local foods, because I can't discover them all myself! 

Anyhoo, that day at Cheese Louise, I slowly came to realize, through discussing the offerings with one of the delightful cheese consultants, that I was in the mood for feta.  "But not just any feta!" I insisted.  I have been disappointed in feta before ... expecting a sharp, briny tang and getting instead a chalky nothingness.  But at Cheese Louise, you can taste before you buy.  One taste of the all-sheep's-milk Pastures of Eden feta cheese, and my eyes lit up. Peoples' eyes lighting up is probably a pretty common occurrence at Cheese Louise.

That cheese was destined to be crumbled over a simple Greek salad of red pepper, cucumber, tomato, and Kalamata olives, with a drizzle each of lemon juice and olive oil, and a finishing sprinkle of oregano.  More will be stirred into sauteed spinach with mushrooms, and it's the kind of cheese you could just serve a hunk of, along with walnuts, crudites or fruit, and enjoy immensely.

If you haven't done so yet, do pop into Cheese Louise for a delightful cheese browse!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Asparagus and Prosciutto Bundles

Something there is about asparagus that makes one want to create elegant dishes with it.  It's a stalk, for one thing.  Cooks don't get to play with stalks all that often.  So, when I read the very short list of ingredients on a package of Parma proscuitto (pork, salt) at Costco, I felt the time had come for me to try prosciutto for the first time ever. 

I adapted this super simple version from several recipes online.  Some called for a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, which I used, but prosciutto is salty, and the salty Parmesan seemed redundant.  So I left it out of my recipe.

1 pound luscious, local CSA asparagus
3 ounces prosciutto (if using two slices per bundle)

Lay two pieces of waxed paper out on countertop. Peel slices of prosciutto apart and lay them on one of the pieces of waxed paper.  It's okay if they overlap a bit--you just want to get them apart for ease of use.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Generously butter a 9 x 9-inch baking dish.  Reserve some butter for topping the bundles.

Bring about 1/2 inch lightly salted water to boil in a skillet.  Snap tough ends from asparagus, and wash the stalks.   Simmer asparagus in the water for just a few minutes, until stalks are just crisp tender.  With tongs, remove asparagus from skillet to the other piece of waxed paper.

Divide asparagus stalks into equal-sized bundles.  Wrap each bundle with a piece of prosciutto.  I used two pieces per bundle.  Some directions called for securing them with toothpicks, but I found the prosciutto adhered to itself quite well, and shrank a bit further in the oven, keeping a tight hold on the asparagus.

Place bundles in baking dish, and top each with a little butter.  Bake for 10 minutes or until things start to sizzle a bit.  Remove from oven, turn each bundle a little to bathe it in butter, and serve.  It's easiest to cut the bundles into bite-sized pieces with a sharp knife.

Makes 6 bundles, or about 3 servings.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Winter CSA: Tenth Box

Asparagus (and thus, to me, true Spring) is here!  Our farmer specializes in asparagus, and it doesn't get more tender or fresh than this.  As well, we have mixed salad greens, spinach, Walla Walla sweet onions, chives, and cilantro.  Only two more boxes, and I'm set to appreciate the heck out of all this local greenery ... and then start frequenting the local farmer's markets! 

Nature's little creatures also like our fresh CSA asparagus ...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Duck Eggs

I probably should have seen this coming, but of course I did not.  Being a tad impulsive when in the presence of interesting food opportunities, and because the duck experiment turned out so well, I couldn't resist continuing the duck theme, and so picked up a box of Russ and Laurie's duck eggs when I saw them in the cooler with the chicken eggs at the Northwest Seafood Market pickup site.

Googling, I find that duck eggs are larger and richer than chicken eggs, and the shells are harder to crack.  After using the duck eggs in a scrumptious omelette, and in another berry flaugnarde, I can attest that both facts are true.  I honestly think one duck egg is equal to two chicken eggs.  Easy.

As well, duck eggs are supposed to perform exceptionally well in baking, possibly due to their extra rich quality.  I plan to use them in a grain-free bread or pancake recipe to see if the higher rise and better texture claims are true.

The duck eggs are available for $4.75 a dozen in the cooler at Northwest Seafood Market in Richland, but if there aren't any there, contact Russ at his website.

Update:  Due to job changes and a relocation, Russ will be shutting down his farm after the winter egg subscriptions end later this month.  As long as the eggs are available, they'll be in the cooler at Northwest Seafood Market.  Contact Russ if you need the details to order and pick up meat chickens, which will be processed next weekend.  Wow, I'll really miss Russ and Laurie's wonderful products.  My deepest gratitude and best wishes to you in this next adventure in life!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ninth Box

Box Nine contained two bags of golden delicious apples (crisp and juicy!), a big 'ol fennel with tentacles reaching everywhere, green onions, salad greens, spinach, chard, sage, and chickpeas.  The salad greens were scrumptious in a salmon salad, and the green onions found their way into Tom Kha (a Thai soup).  The fennel looks to me like it should be in a gratin.  Hmm.  I sauteed the chard and spinach together, and they were delicious.  I recently read that if you eat leafy greens regularly, you will get your needed Omega 3's as well as calcium.  Eating scenery has its perks!

And that's Bananagrams in the background.  If you haven't discovered the joys of Bananagrams, and you like word games, well--you're missing out.  Go get it!  It's way more fun than Scrabble, because it's fast moving, you don't have to wait for other people to take their turns, and you're completely in charge of your own word arrangement.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Kale with Garlic, Sage and Thyme Butter

A serendipitous dish, put together with ingredients I had on hand.  The thyme and sage in my herb garden looked particularly fetching, even after our winter freezes, so I decided to stride confidently in the direction of the kale dish I was beginning to envision.

Sage and butter have long been happy partners, and I discovered that kale loves sage, too.  This is a company-worthy kale dish, with a little heat from the red pepper, a satiny smoothness from the butter, and a rich, savory taste from the herbs and garlic. 

1 bunch lacinato kale
1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced
5 tablespoons butter or ghee

6 cloves garlic
Leaves from 1 handful of fresh thyme sprigs
A handful of fresh sage leaves
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 cup chicken broth or white wine
Salt if needed

6 small fresh tomatoes, quartered

Wash kale, remove thick stems (I do this by ripping the kale away from the stem) and slice the kale into thin strips.
Peel garlic cloves and place them in a small food processor with the thyme and sage leaves.  Process to a fine chopped state.  Alternatively, chop the garlic and herbs finely with a knife.

In large-ish skillet, heat butter or ghee over medium heat.  Add onions and saute for a few minutes.  Add garlic and herb mixture and saute a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.  Finally, stir in the kale and chicken broth, bring to a simmer, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste sauce for salt; I added 1/4 teaspoon.  Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes and heat just until the tomatoes are warmed through and savory looking.  Serve hot.

Makes 4 hearty servings